A new series of Blackadder with a modern-day setting and Rowan Atkinson as a university professor taking aim at the foibles of the younger generation?
That’s the tabloid rumour currently doing the rounds and if it’s true it appears on the surface to go against everything that made previous series of the historical comedy work so well.
As Stephen Fry, Blackadder’s Lord – and later General – Melchett has himself pointed out (via Greg Jenner), ‘history is a safe playground for bad taste jokes’. Caricatures work better when there is some distance separating them from us.
And Blackadder has always worked by ‘punching up’ – making targets of over-privileged, ignorant buffoons in high places, not by attacking a generation who are poorer and more disenfranchised than our (anti-)hero Blackadder.
Even if you think bringing Blackadder back is a good idea (even after the perfect, heart-wrenching ending of First World War satire Blackadder Goes Forth), that treatment won’t work.
But here are four cunning plans that could…
Blackadder’s Cold War
If there’s any setting ripe for a Blackadder piss-take, it’s the murky world of mid-20th century Cold War espionage, in the vein of John Le Carré and the real-life Cambridge Spies.
I’m picturing Blackadder as a university lecturer (we’ll keep that bit) recruiting and running a cell of undercover Russian agents, and secretly enjoying the luxuries of life in the West as he sends fake reports back to Moscow.
The potential for comedy Russians, ham-fisted parallels with present-day issues and awkward situations involving Blackadder’s nonplussed Soviet handlers is endless.
Add Hugh Laurie’s George as the worst double agent ever – both sides believe he’s a master spy working for them, whereas he just thinks he has a lot of friendly pen pals – and the series practically writes itself. Welcome, Comrade Baldrick!
– Huw Fullerton
Blackadder Makes the News
It’s the 1980s and Edmund Blackadder is a ruthless tabloid newspaper editor rising up the ranks of Melchett Media, named after the despotic CEO (Stephen Fry) who our hero wants to both impress and usurp.
Miranda Richardson is an ambitious flame-haired reporter vying for supremacy with Edmund, while Tony Robinson’s Baldrick is a luckless printers’ union rep fighting and failing to preserve the integrity and future of an industry crushed by the march of Thatcherite progress and global change.
Having explored the influence of monarchy and the military on society, setting the next anachronistic chapter in the media at the time of Murdoch’s rise and the Wapping disputes would make it ripe for satirical swipes foreshadowing celebrity culture, political manipulation of the press and phone hacking.
– Johnathon Hughes
Blackadder’s Jewel in the Crown
Reconsidering our colonial past is all the raj these days, and there is no group of people better suited to highlighting what writer Pankaj Mishra called the “malign incompetence of the British Ruling Class” than Blackadder, Melchett and the rest.
While the series seldom ventures forth from the British Isles themselves, the ‘direct rule’ of India was so vital to the Victorian way of life it was called the ‘Jewel of the Empire’.
What’s more, it’s a story so wrought with corruption, obliviousness, entitlement and casual cruelty that you can already imagine the plotlines: George playing cricket while Edmund plays Kipling’s Great Game, ineptly, Percy the obsequious face of the East India Company as Viceroy Melchett’s moustache draws straight lines across the map.
Obviously a uniformly white cast would need additions, but as long as the joke is always on the conniving toffs who trampled all over thousands of years of history and millions of actual people while drunk on Gin and Tonics, we can see Blackadder being right at home on the Ganges.
– Jonathan Holmes
Blackadder and the Iron Lady
I can see Edmund conniving his way down the corridors of power in the 1980s as a venomous Whitehall chief whip dressed in a double-breasted suit and carrying a brick-sized mobile phone. Miranda Richardson would make for a formidable Margaret Thatcher and Stephen Fry could feature as a barking mad chairman of the 1922 committee. Hugh Laurie might play a doe-eyed, malleable newcomer in Parliament who’s won a large majority in the 1979 election and is now completely in awe of Blackadder’s wiles, while Tim McInnerny is one of the old-guard Tory “wets” who Thatcher wanted to force out.
As for Baldrick, I see him either as a Michael Foot-style member of the opposition or, even better, a union leader whose “cunning plan” is to bring his workers out on strike without a ballot.
With the Thatcher era offering so many parallels when it comes to the present state of politics, there’s loads of potential for cutting comment on the 21st century Westminster landscape. Europe, the free market, schisms within the Conservative Party – you can’t go wrong, surely?
– David Brown